Plan for Revised Citywide Maintenance Department Hits Snag Over Control Issues

Facilities Supervisor Heather Forgione, right, makes a point as Haverhill parent Paige Caswell looks on at a 2019 meeting. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Plans to create a consolidated school-city maintenance department has hit another snag after more than a year of talks.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini told members of the School Committee last week the city side will not agree to a combined department if he does not have shared control with school Superintendent Margaret Marotta. The mayor said the maintenance director has focused principally on school buildings.

“Well, we’re about to hire somebody and if you want the city to contribute to that person’s salary, we have to reach an agreement. Now, if you don’t, that’s fine too. I’ll take the money and do something else with it,” Fiorentini said.

Last November, Fire Chief William F. Laliberty backed the mayor’s position. He told city councilors he had 33 repair tickets into the current joint city-school maintenance department, but some have been closed because the department didn’t help.

The dual arrangement calls for the school department to pay 75 percent of the director’s salary while the city picks up the other 25 percent. The mayor said unless he had some control over the person hired, he would bow out and hire someone dedicated to city work only.

For their part, school committee members said they still thought a combined department would be the best answer financially. Committee member Scott W. Wood Jr. said there should be only one boss.

“I surely don’t want to see that position go unfilled. I strongly feel that the position should be hired and report to the superintendent of schools,” Wood said.

It was last year the mayor and City Council agreed to create a maintenance department to tend to both schools and city-owned buildings. The original plan called for a director to have been hired at the beginning of 2020. Back in April, Council Vice President Colin F. LePage expressed frustration over delays. He noted the mayor changing his mind last January and was granted $12,500 to hire Matrix Company to perform a study of the issue.

Fiorentini said he has received a preliminary draft of the Matrix study, but wouldn’t share it with the School Committee because he preferred to wait for the final report. He said she expects that in the next couple of weeks.

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